The Open: David Duval talks a good game as he bares his soul to world
FOR someone who doesn’t normally talk much to the press, David Duval did an awful lot of talking yesterday. On and on he went, always insightful, always courteous. Only Padraig Harrington’s interview lasted longer in these fevered preview days ahead of the 141st Open championship, and we all know how much he likes to gabble.
Journalists drifted in to see what could possibly be detaining their colleagues. Sitting up there in front of them was the answer. Duval, the fallen champion. The baseball cap was on, but the wraparound sunglasses were off. This latter scenario is so rare that his eyes stared out from from the centre of large moons of sunlight-starved pale skin. On this occasion, we were being granted a peak behind the shades. Like the panda he resembled, he seemed a loveable creature.
Now and again he would frown slightly and ask a reporter why he had asked a particular question, or he might gently upbraid them for what he considered was a “loaded” inquiry. It was a fascinating rummage around “the stuff” of a golfer who left here £600,000 richer last time around. That was in 2001. His most recent Open appearances have seen him pocket comparitively meagre sums of around £2,000. Remarkably, he has never thought to make a special trip back to a place where he secured what many believed would be the first of multiple majors. In actual fact, it was his last victory of any kind.
Perhaps he can’t bear to return to the scene of what might stand as his final triumph, aged just 29. What happened? “I don’t necessarily need to go into it,” he said. “Unless you want me to.” Like a chorus-line of nodding dogs in the window of a Blackpool tat shop, we indicated that this was exactly what we wanted.
The principal reason for his decline has been a “laundry list” of ailments, from bone bruises in his knees to tendinitis in both shoulders, from a chronic back problem to more tendinitis in an arm, for which he will be wearing a brace this week. Even those sunglasses of his are required because his eyes are sensitive to the stoor kicked up on a golf course. However, there were some some trickier areas to cover, including the enduring grief prompted by the death of brother Brent, when Duval was only nine. “I’m just trying to explain a story,” he said, as he unexpectedly brought the subject up. “It kind of feels like I have had two lives. I have a sister, it’s now the two of us.”
It was just him for too long at the height of his success. Between 1998 and 2001, he enjoyed ten victories, shooting a record-equalling score of 59 in the final round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 1999. “Although I had a long-time girlfriend, kind of alone is how I felt,” he said. “I was unfulfilled outside of golf, although I was having great success in it. It was a very narrow-minded existence. I will be certain to never live that way again.”
Having, in his initial preamble, offered up the nugget that he hasn’t been to Royal Lytham in 11 years, he was later asked why this was so. Had he not been inclined to return at any point since, if only to see his name etched on the winners’ board in gold ink, alongside such greats as Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player and Peter Thomson?
“Not really,” was his answer. Perhaps this took us closest to the heart of the matter. He had other things to be getting on with, including becoming a father. He now has five children, the eldest of whom has joined him this week at Royal Lytham. Although now in his early 20s, Deano might not have been much moved by Duval’s victory here 11 years ago. They didn’t make each other’s acquaintance until 2004, when Duval got together with Susie, who is now his wife. He and Susie have since had two children of their own together.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, who he has been grouped alongside today, is not fazed by much, but Deano’s presence here caused the Spaniard some confusion when Duval introduced them on the driving range. “How old are you?” the Spaniard asked Duval. “I’m 40,” the American replied. “Well how old is he?” Jimenez asked, with reference to Deano. Duval told him that he was 22. “I guess he’s my stepson,” he explained. “It’s neat to be in this situation. I don’t see them any different, they’re like my kids.” While he has found domestic contentment, there can be no denying that his game has been in crisis. Sadly, it probably still is, given that, in 13 tournaments so far this year, he has missed the cut on ten occasions. A world ranking of 775 doesn’t suggest he is on the point of re-discovering the powers that took him to world No 1, just before Tiger Woods built an annex of his own on the position. They were once friendly rivals.
Duval hitched a lift back home in Woods’ private jet after his Open win here, Claret Jug positioned between them. Indeed, Duval was the young gun’s original rival. What kind of relationship, if any, does he have with him now, he was asked. “Can I ask you why?” replied Duval. “What’s the importance of that? I’m just curious. I haven’t been asked that question before.”
He was happy to answer it, though. “We were decent friends ten years ago,” he reflected. “We talked a fair amount. Are we friends now? I guess so. I wouldn’t hesitate to have a beer with him. But it would probably have to be hidden in some house somewhere. It’s not like he can go out in public and do it. And it sucks that he can’t do that.”
Duval, by contrast, has had fun strolling into town “for a beer and a pizza”. While it’s taken him a while to return here, he feels like he belongs. “Although I haven’t won this golf tournament for 11 years, in a weird way I’m kind of thought of as defending [it], because I am back at my site,” he said. “It makes you feel as though you are part of the club here.”
His absence from the course since 2001 should not be interpreted as a snub, he stressed. “It’s just that my travels here [to Britain] don’t necessarily allow for [a visit],” he explained.
“A lot of Americans make the trip over here to play golf, and I would always tell them to make a point of coming to play this one. It’s every bit as good as Muirfield or Birkdale. But it doesn’t, for some reason, get the recognition.”
Does he believe he can repeat his win here? “Absolutely,” he said, firmly. And why not? In the midst of his ghastly on-course struggles he almost landed the US Open title in 2009. He contends he is still good at the game that has frustrated him to the point that he was reported as being close to quitting. He has no desire to walk away now, though. He stayed out there hitting balls on the driving range on Tuesday, as the weather took a turn for the worse. “What were you doing yesterday from 3.30pm to 5.30pm when it was pouring?” he asked one journalist. Point made.
Another reporter asked whether he had ever contemplated an existence beyond golf, perhaps as a politician? “Sh*t, no,” he smiled. Too likeable for one thing. And, without the shades, too endearingly vulnerable for another.
David Duval returns to the scene of his triumph in 2001 where he won The Open by three shots from Niclas Fasth.
On the final day of the tournament – the last time it was held at Lytham – two brilliant par saves on the 14th and 15th helped him to a 67 and victory.
It seemed that at the time, aged 29, with two second-place finishes, one third and seven more finishes in the top-11 that he had cracked it and more major triumphs were sure to follow for the player, who was ranked No 1 in the world.
Instead, the man from Jacksonville, the son of golf instructor Bob Duval, lost his way completely and today he ranks No 775.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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